State to put French accent on commuter rail

The Globe reports the board of the state Department of Transportation voted today to replace MBCR with the French company Keolis to run commuter rail for at least eight years, starting this June.



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    Notable Excerpts from the Globe article

    But Scott told the board that the new contractor is mandated to hire the current commuter rail workforce and keep existing labor agreements in place.

    Excellent. This way they will have no power to weed out the small group of bad apples which likely drags on the system. I'm not anti-Union at all but I've worked in enough union shops to know there is always one or two people *everyone* knows should go but are untouchable due to stupid union politics.

    That would make the base deal, the largest operating contract in state history, about $335 million per year, higher than the $214 million a year initially paid to the current operator, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., when it was first awarded the contract a decade ago.

    However, Scott told the board that the contract contains more potential penalties — $12 million per year versus $3 million per year.

    Ah yes, the Penalties. I wonder if those are the same penalties for late trains which MBCR was able to get removed after executives went back and forth between MBTA and MBCR jobs. One would hope that with the higher price tag would come more responsibilities. But it sounds like the small $12 million (3.5%) is a cap and won't make them sweat. So even if every train is late it's no big deal, they've already accounted for that. And if they get lucky and we get a warm winter and cool summer resulting in fewer mechanical problems it will be that much more take home pay for those at the top.

    Anyway, I wish them the best of luck. MBCR was an improvement over Amtrak so hopefully these people will be an improvement still. I just wish the state has some way of holding them to the fire if they fail to deliver.



    I hate to be a pessimist but this will just be "more of the same" if staff is not dealt with. Sorry, but its true. I don't want to see people out of work, but having people REAPPLY for the same job might weed out some of the bad folks, and actually give the jobs to people who care about their work, and want to work. Not just some union lackey who has the job because he's 'connected' or 'can't be fired because of the union'.

    Oh well I had high hopes for Keolis but I severely doubt there will little to any change to what's going on now.

    Oh well...


    Couldn't agree more

    Last Thursday night I was on my way home from the Bruins game, took the orange line to Back Bay to transfer over the the Needham line to westie. The GF politely asked the conductor if it was in fact the Needham train. Well she lost it, yelled at both of us. I would have told her to eat a bag of dicks, but it was the last train out.

    Sounds familiar

    I wonder whether this was the same conductor who played a game of preventing me from exiting a Haverhill train. She kept moving in front of me, forcing me into a corner, even shutting the door on me. I wondered why and could only figure that she misinterpreted my actually moving out of her way in some backwards fashion to mean I was trying to get in her way.

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    Keep your chin up. They were only awarded the contract today. Give them time to do good, or not, before you give up on them.


    Federal Requirement

    Railroad jobs have federal protection. It's not a contractual issue as much as it is a federal requirement to maintain the existing jobs in place. That is in place to prevent union busting and to assure that trains will continue operating during transitions.

    What will happen is that all staff will be allowed to lateral onto the new company's payroll and all union agreements will remain in force. Essentially what will happen is the banner on the paycheck will change - that's all - at least to start.

    Change will take time.

    Remember, this is not a panacea to make things better. They ar estill dealing with aged equipment and other infrastructure. It will take time to make it better - possibly years.

    The operator is only the day-to-day management of labor and facilities, much like bringing in any management firm to run an apartment complex. Forward direction and improvements have to come from the MBTA and MassDOT.


    Bon courage!

    I've seen that SNCF is the majority shareholder of Keolis.

    Even taking into account the occasional strike (by which I have only been affected one time in probably 12 recent trips to France), if the T's commuter rail runs anything like the SNCF network, it will be a vast improvement over what we have now.

    As for the freedom-fries-lovin' "cheese-eating-surrender-monkey" crowd who will say that "the Frogs can't do anything", I supply this oldie but goodie (yes, that's right, the French did this almost seven years ago).


    More of the same

    MBCR is 80% foreign owned. Veolia (the majority partner holding 60%) is a French company and Bombardier (a minority stakeholder holding 20%) is a Canadian company. ACI is the only American component, but it is owned by a bunch of politicians.

    Keolis, has offices in Rockville, Maryland, any employees working on the MBTA contract will be in the Boston region. It's next to impossible to buy anything these days that is 100% American.

    I think it's nonsense that they are contracting these operations to for profit companies anyway. What sense does it make to pay a company $2 billion when they will probably only get $1.8 billion in actual benefit. I don't see how these companies profiting will in any way benefit the Commonwealth. At least when Amtrak ran it, it was all American and they had much smaller profit margins.

    It would be better if a non-profit company actually ran this service. Since when has a railroad actually made a profit moving people? I would guess the early 1960's. Since the state would rather give their money to their friends in multi-national companies, no improvement will ever be made to this service. Hard to believe that the most liberal state has bought into the whole "privatize public services because the private sector can do it more efficiently" nonsense.

    This is just one more massive government giveaway and MBCR is mad that they don't get to play anymore.


    A non-profit won't work

    I have no idea where you get the idea that Amtrak had smaller profit margins with Amtrak. What's your source? They didn't operate the service out of the goodness of their hearts.

    I don't think there are any transportation non-profits in existence that would have the investments necessary to run the service. Theoretically, contracting the system out makes sense if there were actual penalties to poor service and the T had even the slightest idea how to do proper oversight. This didn't happen with MBCR probably because it was run by a hugely connected guy. Hopefully, things will be different with Keolis, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Amtrak contest

    Amtrak operated the MBTA Commuter Rail contract under a cost- plus agreement. The T approved spending, Amtrak made purchases and negotiated labor agreements and added a management fee on top of every dollar spent. They could not help but to make a profit. Recent trend in these privately operated rail contracts is to impose penalties which make profits marginal. That said, MBCR had ten years of historic financial data on which to base their bid and were underbid. Keolis is funded by the government of France and had deeper pockets, could take a financial hit. The MBCR partnership were not willing to operate the service at a loss. Amtrak has been criticized for having an unfair advantage in bidding these contracts because of federal subsidies, Keolis is much the same in his respect. They have government financial backing.
    Not to be forgotten is that the second part of the MBTA bid process was not about money. It was a thorough review of Keolis and MBCR past performance and their proposed leadership teams. Unfortunately for MBCR, the T were intimately familiar with the politics of MBCR and this became strike two in this ballgame. They have gone through 8 General Managers in 10 years culminating with a lunatic who's bizarre antics the MBTA tired of and was "removed" in 2013, two years too late to save the contract.